HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS : They Learn Girls Are Just as Game : Basketball: Coaches who switch from guiding boys' teams are pleasantly surprised.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bob Webb was fresh out of UCLA when he was named women's basketball coach at L.A. Trade Tech. It took only one season, and a 1-19 record, to determine that coaching the opposite gender was not for him.

That was 1974.

Twenty years later, a call came with an offer to head the girls' program at Montclair Prep, a school which had never won a girls' league championship in any sport. Trade Tech all over again. Perhaps in a polite gesture, he told the school he would think about it.

After all, he was co-coach of Montclair Prep's boys for 10 seasons before starting a catering business in 1993. There were a lot of good memories there, including a run of six consecutive Alpha League boys' titles during the '80s. The least he could do was think about it.

But girls?

"I kept thinking that, after Trade Tech, I swore I'd never (coach females) again," Webb said.

His mind was changed last summer after a phone call to his old college coach, John Wooden.

"He said everything is relative," said Webb, 47, who was a reserve on Bruin championship teams that included Bill Walton, Marques Johnson and Swen Nater in the early '70s. "He said it was not a step backward.

"He gave me the feeling that he would be just as proud to hear me call and say I won a league championship as he would hearing the same thing from (former assistant) Denny Crum."

So he took the job.

And, move over Denny, Webb just won the Westside League championship. His Mounties (13-6) will play host to Maricopa today in the first round of the Southern Section Division V-AA playoffs.

Webb is not the only rookie girls' coach to move over from boys' basketball.

Jim Woodard coached Taft's boys for 13 seasons. He won two league championships, posted a 181-102 record and established himself as one of the most-respected coaches in the area.

For many reasons, however, the experience began to wear on him. He felt a change was in order. In a unique move, Woodard, 55, traded positions with girls' Coach Mark Drucker last spring.

"I just felt I didn't want to do it anymore," he said of coaching boys. "It wasn't any one factor. A little burnout maybe."

This season, the Toreador girls are burning bright. In their first season at the 4-A level, they upset traditional powerhouse Kennedy twice on the way to the West Valley League championship.

Taft (18-2) defeated Garfield, 54-52, in overtime Friday in the first round of the City Section playoffs.

Much of the team's success can be attributed to Woodard.

"Having Jim as the coach is alone good for a half-dozen wins," Drucker said.

Hart's Dave Munroe and Channel Islands' Don Salado are among other area coaches who have enjoyed notable success after moving to girls' teams.

Munroe won the Southern Section 5-A Division championship in 1989-90, his first season after switching. Salado coached Channel Islands' boys for 20 seasons before winning the 1994 Marmonte League title in his first year with the girls.

The boys and girls play on the same court, but crossover coaches agree that there are definite differences in the personalities who play on it.

To hear Salado tell it, coaching girls has proven to be much more enjoyable and personally rewarding.

"The girls remembered my anniversary," said Salado, who won two boys' Southern Section championships and six Marmonte League titles. "I was stunned. They even surprised me with a birthday cake once. I have a lot more fun coaching girls. I don't think I'd ever go back to boys' basketball again."

Woodard learned quickly, however, that the experience would be no cake-walk.

In an early-season game, a Taft player was knocked to the floor. Tears streamed down her face as she rolled on the floor. Based on his boys' basketball background, Woodard immediately surmised that there was a serious problem.

"I go out on the floor to help her off, and five minutes later, she tells me she's ready to go back in," Woodard said. "Almost every injury is tears. Sometimes its hard for me to read the degree of pain."

All things considered, Woodard wouldn't trade back.

"Sportsmanship and character mean a lot to me, being old and dinosaur-ish," said Woodard, also an English and history teacher at Taft. "(The girls) keep things in much better perspective. I've been very impressed by the girls and the girls' coaches. Overall, they run much-classier operations."

Trying to squeeze in gym time at Montclair Prep brings back Webb's past.

"When I was coaching the boys here, I would sometimes resent sharing the gym with the girls' team," he said. "I would look over there and see six girls taking up half the court. It would drive me crazy.

"Now when I complain about gym time for my team, it kind of comes back at me."

Much like the full circle taken in his coaching career.

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